Category Archives: Wineries

2009 Macquariedale Hunter Valley Late Picked Semillon

The black pirate

The final wine and black pirate at our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling Tasting came from Australia, and was brought by a friend who had just arrived from Australia. She knows Nina’s and my love for wine, and she pretty much nailed it earlier this year when she brought this wine for us…

It was only after the tasting that I dove a bit further into the winery. On its website, the owners state that Ross and Derice McDonald started planting some vines in 1993 as an escape out of Sydney’s corporate world…interesting. In 1998 they went in all the way by moving to their Hunter River property from Sydney. They now own 15 hectares of vineyards and claim to make biodynamic/organic wines. I know organic wine making is quite the rage for a lot of consumers these days. I am fine with drinking organic wines, but it would never be my main criterion in buying a wine. A wine has to taste good first and foremost. If that can be combined with less intrusive methods of growing, that is fine with me. What I do not like is that equation of organic = good. To their credit, Mcquariedale does not seem to push that point too hard.

They grow shiraz (it is an Australian winery after all!), cab sav, merlot, semillon, chardonnay and verdelho grapes.

The wine description on their homepage reads as follows: “Our late picked Semillon is produced in a light style with hints of citrus peel and marmalade on the palate.  The semillon grapes are left to ripen on the vine and then fermented briefly to retain all the natural acidity and sweetness.  The wine will age gracefully and deepen in colour and flavour with extended cellaring.”

Here are my tasting notes. The wine poured in a deep orange color, and was highly viscose, as was to be expected by a fortified dessert wine. The nose had prominent pumpkin and clove aromas, then dried apricots and overripe cantaloupe. On the palate, the first and slightly overwhelming note was honey. As the earlier detected pumpkin and clove came in, so did some hints of sweet potato. I hardly noticed any acidity at all. The finish had an interesting touch with slight salty notes in the end.

I have to say, this wine did not grow on me. It was just too sweet without redeeming acidity. The pumpkin and cloves aroma did not help, because I am not fond of pumpkin pie at all (hey, I am not American, I do not have to like pumpkin pie!). I think the craftsmanship is there, and I bet there are many that like this type of dessert wine, some of the vin santo I tried in Italy was of similar style. I am just spoiled by my riesling BA, TBA and ice wines…

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2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese

2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese

I promised to write about this participant in our Michigan vs. Mosel Riesling tasting seperately for two reasons. First, I want to talk about the Scharzhofberg a bit more, because the vineyard matters to me, and second because I want to talk about the winery in a bit more detail.

The Scharzhofberg is a vineyard along the Saar, a tributary to the Mosel. The Saar meets the Mosel just south of Trier, in the town of Konz. The Saar commences in France and then flows into Germany. It is a mere 246 km (152 miles) long, but only the final parts in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate are used for growing wine, mostly riesling. The Saar is known to produce more mineralic, somewhat tarter rieslings than the middle Mosel. The microclimate is cooler than at the Mosel, so the grapes tend to ripen later and can reach acidity levels without the higher sugar levels you can find on the Mosel, which gives them a distinct character. Most of the vineyards belonged to the church, but in the course of the secularization in the 19th century, many private investors bought plots and began wine making. Rich families began to settle later in the 19th century which led to the term “Saarbarone” (baronets of the Saar, a term derived from “Ruhrbarone” which was used for the industrialists in the Ruhr area that made a fortune when the industrial revolution took off). A lot of the estates on the Saar are very grandiose, unlike most Mosel estates.

The Saar boasts many prime vineyards like the Kanzemer Altenberg, Ockfener Bockstein, Ayler Kupp and also, the most prominent among them, the Scharzhofberg. Technically belonging to the village of Wiltingen, the vineyard is so prominent, that the wineries do not have to list the village name on their labels. They proudly just use “Scharzhofberger”. The area stretches over 28 hectares (around 70 acres) in steep slopes (30 to 60 degrees) towards the South, the soil consisting of slate with rocky soil with iron and clay. Only riesling is grown here by a few producers that read like the who is who: Egon Müller-Scharzhof, van Volxem, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, von Hövel, Bischöfliche Weingüter, Vereinigte Hospitien as well as Johannes Peters and Weingut Resch.

The most prominent producer here is Egon Müller, a star among German winemakers, whose wines command the highest prices in the business. I just checked some of the prices in German online stores: a bottle of Kabinett $40, spätlese $170,  auslese starting at $250. That is a LOT for Germany…I have not had an Egon Müller, but I sure hope to try some at some point. Other Scharzhofberger are more affordable.

The Bischöfliche Weingüter, that produced the spätlese I want to talk about here, is a rather unique winery. As its name indicates (Episcopal Wine Estates), the winery belongs to the bishop of Trier. It manages and produces wines for the estates Bischöfliches Priesterseminar (Episcopal Priest Seminary), Hohe Domkirche (High Cathedral), Bischöfliches Konvikt (Episcopal Convent), and Friedrich-Wilhelm-Gymnasium (Grammar School Friedrich-Wilhelm). In the middle ages, the church partly financed itself with producing and selling wine. I mentioned in an older post that the same was true for universities. The church therefore had vast properties, often in prime locations. Separate branches of the church had separate lots. As the names of the estates indicate, the proceeds went to each separate institution. During secularization, the church was forced to sell most of its properties, but the Bischöfliche Weingüter bought back lots when the chance arose in the mid 19th century.  The Bischöfliche Weingüter today own over 130 hectares (320 acres), which is a whole lot in Germany. The Hohe Domkirche consists of 22 hectares in two locations: the Scharzhofberg and the Avelsbach estate close to Trier. They now have a modern tasting room in Trier, and their wines have gained a better reputation over the last decade.

This 2009 Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Spätlese was given to me as a parting gift by one of my best friends in Trier. She knows how much I love Scharzhofbergers, and she has been a “Weinfee” (wine fairy, i.e. pourer) at the Bischöfliche Weingüter to help finance her degree. So, what better way to make me miss her than giving me a bottle of my beloved Scharzhofberger. I usually buy the Vereinigte Hospitien version, and have a couple in my cellar.

THAT is cork art!

We opened the wine and first up to admire is the beautiful cork art. The Bischöfliche print the three coat of arms of their wineries (Convent, High Cathedral, and Seminary) on the cork, and them being rather elaborate, it looks gorgeous! Pouring the wine into our glasses, it showed a light yellow color. On the nose I got very creamy, perfumy notes, then almonds. On the palate, the wine initially showed ripe strawberry and some cream. It had a very long finish, and there was a depth to it that was beautiful. After a while, I got more aromas of mango, and other tropical fruit. It was a very pretty wine. Two participants in the tasting told me later that it was their favorite of the evening, which I might sign up to, but I was still so impressed with the Michigan rieslings that I do not want to make that statement.

If you ever get a chance, give a Scharzhofberger a try. I have yet to be let down by a single bottle of it. Just beware: All vineyards in the Saar valley that do not have their own name (aka are not renown) can use the name “Scharzberg” on the label. These wines usually have nothing in common with the Scharzhofberger steep hill beauties, because they are usually from flatter plots and often lower quality land (thanks to Rob for that info!). So, watch out when you go hunting!

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Meeting the vintners: Weingut Karl Erbes, Ürzig (Mosel), Germany

So much better than Hollywood

Some of my readers might remember our awesome tasting at Vereinigte Hospitien in June (if not, the venue is described here and the tasting notes are here). It should not be a surprise to you if I say that this tasting was not the last tasting of the day…we had an appointment with Stefan Erbes at Karl Erbes winery.

From Trier we headed to the autobahn to race to Ürzig (about 35 minutes down the Mosel, but our car was weighed down by the accumulated wine boxes in it, so we might have been a bit slower) because we had made arrangements with Stefan Erbes of Karl Erbes winery there. I first came across this winery, low and behold, through my friend ManSoo (yes, you have heard that name before). When friends of ours had given Nina a wine weekend along the Mosel as a birthday gift in 2011 we were looking at a lot of wineries.  ManSoo suggested we give them a try, so we did. It was not a mistake. The tasting that day was epic: Stefan opened bottle after bottle, and we had tons of fun. We even came back the next morning for some of their sparkling wine (made like champagne, but cannot be called that for trademark reasons). We went back several times since, and Stefan has become a good friend.

View towards Erdener Prälat and Treppchen

For those unfamiliar with Ürzig let me quickly recap why I like that village so much. Ürzig is nestled to some steep hills along the Mosel. Just driving into it from the Autobahn gives you an idea how steep when the view opens up to the Mosel. This village is all about wine. The drive down the sloped roads also reveals vine after vine, even in the village. It is home or close to three of my favorite vineyards: Ürziger Würzgarten (Spice Garden), Erdener Treppchen (Little Steps), and Erdener Prälat (Prelate).

Karl Erbes winery is a rather young winery, founded in 1967. Karl Erbes had been cellarmaster for other wineries when he decided to start his own winery. Stefan, his son who is now in charge of wine making, joined in in 1984. The winery owns about 5 hectares (about 12.3 acres) in the Würzgarten and Treppchen, with ungrafted vines up to 80 years old. They recently were able to snatch a small lot in the much coveted Erdener Prälat (there is usually a scramble for lots there: only a handful of winemakers own or rent land in this tiny vineyard). I am really excited about this, because a) I love the Prälat wines and b) I love Stefan’s style of winemaking, so the combination should be great! The winery has a tasting room and wine bar where you can go and try their wines with some food during the summer months. It is a great way to spend an evening.

Stefan and I

Stefan is a great guy. I will never forget how open and welcoming he was when we first stumbled into their tasting room. There is nothing artificial about him: He is a straight talker, but he also has a wonderful sense of humor. He strongly cares about his wines, but there is also a human connection that I really enjoy. Last fall, I spent one day harvesting with his crew and the way he took care of me was really heart-warming. Silly me had not prepared a lunch package (hell, I was glad I made it out there at 7.30 AM!). So, he just brought me some of his mother’s home-cooked meal with a pastry bun and hot coffee for lunch. It was a great experience working in these vineyards, although I am glad I only did it for a day. My muscles were hurting the next few days…I later went with my mother, and we had a great time as well (Stefan’s uncle, who runs the wine bar, actually was able to convince my mother that riesling can be good…a feat I never accomplished). In short, it is one of the friendliest and most hospitable wineries I know.

Another cool thing is that Karl Erbes was smart enough to stash away bottles of each vintage and hold on to them. Their list of rarity wines is phenomenal (and so are the prices for these wines – for some 25+ year wines you pay as little as $15!). We have had incredible 1996 and 1997 wines, I tried a 1977 (my birthyear), and we have an 1987 put aside for another of Nina’s birthdays. It is a great chance to actually buy and try some old rieslings without paying a fortune.

The line

Alright, with that, to the wines. We tried a total of 15 wines from Kabinett to Beerenauslese and ice wine, all 2011. If you are unaware of the wine levels in Germany, check out my at a glance sheet. As before, I will write about some wines seperately. All grapes are riesling grapes.

We started with two dry spätlesen from Würzgarten and Treppchen (he even produced a dry auslese, but we did not try that one). Again, it became clear that 2011 was a great year for dry rieslings. The 2011 Erdener Treppchen Spätlese trocken was mild with the typical Treppchen aromas of yellow fruit. The 2011 Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese trocken was fuller bodied and had more muscle to it with its terroir typical floral notes. Both wines were quite good, but I do prefer the sweeter wines (as you should know by now).

On to the three semi-sweets: The Erdener Treppchen Spätlese halbtrocken was nicely silky on the tongue, with a good amount of acidity. But it was a bit too heavy for my taste. The Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett feinherb was, again, floral but with distinct minerality to it and some not overpowering fruit. My star in this line up was the Ürziger Würzgarten Spätlese feinherb: full of minerality, awesome perfume notes in the nose, silky texture, long finish. Just a great, great typical Mosel wine.

On the sweet end of the spectrum, we tried ten wines. This is where Stefan is really strong. The Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett was an explosion of fruit, with some banana, and the sweetness wrapped in healthy acidity. The spätlesen and his auslesen will be dealt with in a seperate post.

We finished with the Beerenauslese (BA) from Treppchen and Würzgarten. The Treppchen had so much fruit in it that it was hard to wrap your head around. The viscosity on the tongue, the sugar and acidity playing on your tongue, the seemingly endless finish made this wine incredibly sensuous. At 301 grams of residual sugar per liter, you would think it is all syrup, but it was not. The Würzgarten, with an insane 315 grams of residual sugar per liter, was much more lively than the Treppchen. The wine was dancing on my tongue with tons of dried fruits. These wines are not for daily consumption, and they are not ready for consumption at this point. But they will be stellar in many years to come…

But we were not quite finished yet. Stefan was pouring us a browny, slightly milky wine without telling us what it was and asked us what we thought of it. The wine tasted somewhat off, it had a somewhat muggy smell. It had some salty notes in it, too. Turned out it was berries he harvested as ice wine on February 3, 2012. That is pretty far into the new year, even for an ice wine. The problem was that some berries were rotten at that point. So, he cannot sell it as an ice wine (grapes have to be healthy), but it was still an interesting experience…

We had big plans to go back once more after an insane 24 hour Rome trip the next week, but it turned out that a night without sleep was not the best starting point for going to theirs the next morning. So we had to skip that. But I am really looking forward to the next visit!! Stefan speaks good English, so please go and visit them if you get the chance. Readers in Europe can order their wines through their website at winery prices plus a modest shipping fee. There is absolutely no reason not to try their wines.

With that, we ended our trip to the Mosel in June 2012. I so cannot wait to go back.

Back in my hometown

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